After two exciting draws to begin UEFA Futsal EURO 2022 Group B on Thursday, the action continues on Monday at Groningen’s MartiniPlaza as Italy face Slovenia and Finland play Kazakhstan.
We preview the games.
Italy vs Slovenia (17:30 CET, Groningen)
In the end, two-time champions Italy were relieved to come away from their opener against debutants Finland with a 3-3 draw, Cainan de Matos equalising with 76 seconds left. Slovenia, meanwhile, led 1-0, 2-1 and 4-2 against Kazakhstan and performed excellently, only for the match to end 4-4 – leaving this group wide open.
Slovenia lost the experienced Gašper Vrhovec to a muscle problem during the Kazakhstan game, meaning that Kristjan Čujec has opted to come out of the injury-enforced international retirement he announced late last year in order to replace his long-time colleague in the squad.
Even before Čujec’s call, Slovenia’s energy and tactical nous caught the eye during their opening game and captain Igor Osredkar will hope to repeat his heroics of four years ago in Ljubljana, when his two late goals earned a 2-1 comeback win against Italy that took the hosts through their group ahead of the Azzurri.
Massimiliano Bellarte, Italy coach: “We need to win, we need the win to stay in the tournament. But we deserve to win because of the work we did before coming here. We have to give everything to win, because I think we deserve it … Slovenia are different opponents to Finland, they defend in a different way, and they also attack in a different way. They have other weapons.”
Tomislav Horvat, Slovenia coach: “The arrival of Čujec brings us quality. Everyone knows what this player can bring. The players are focused on the next game, we are ready to face Italy. The Italian team are aggressive, and they take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. [Alex] Merlim is one of the three best players in the world. He deserves special attention. We have prepared to stop him, but you can never completely stop him because he is one of the best.”
Kristjan Čujec, new Slovenia call-up: “It seemed right to me to come and help the national team, these guys with whom I have played practically for our entire careers.”
Key stat: Slovenia beat Italy 3-2 in the 2014 group stage, while the Azzurri won 2-1 as hosts in 2003. Both times, Italy lifted the trophy.
Finland vs Kazakhstan (20:30 CET, Groningen)
Finland might have been denied a dream debut win by Italy, but there was no arguing with the quality of their performance and especially their three goals. They will need all that excellence once again as they tackle a Kazakhstan side considered the most likely of the 12 contenders yet to win a title to claim their first.
The newcomers will have noted that Kazakhstan showed some vulnerability against Slovenia, especially with Higuita unusually caught in possession, but Douglas Junior and Co also demonstrated their ability to fight back in adversity.
Kazakhstan will hope to have Dauren Tursagulov back from the injury that kept him out of the Slovenia game, though Albert Akbalikov’s red card means he is suspended for their first competitive meeting with Finland. Coach Kaká will be return to the bench after assistant Serhiy Koridze took charge for the Slovenia match.
Mićo Martić, Finland coach: “I was a bit surprised by Kazakhstan’s result in the first match. But we know that Slovenia are a good team, with skilful and fast players. [Kazakhstan] were fantastic in the last World Cup. In the end they got better as the minutes went by against Slovenia. We believe we can compete against anyone, we are a competitive team, and we are going to fight in this group. I don’t think we’re going to change much. We have to keep their key players away from our goal. We have to keep an eye on their best players. But they’re all good, and we’ll have to play a good game to get a good result.”
Kaká, Kazakhstan coach: “I am happy to be here, mainly because I am here for the team. I expect a very ‘run-and-gun’ game, two very fast teams. Finland are strong, organised and physically powerful. I think we will see a modern futsal match, a good match. The players are getting better and better as the games go on, and the teams are improving.”
Key stat: Panu Autio’s goal for Finland on Thursday was his 101st for the team.
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